The Unintended Consequences of Gravel Riding: A Road Racers journey to Gormont

As someone who's heart was always in road racing I've gone through quite a transformation over the last year. Growing up I always had a road bike with skinny tires and gravel was to be avoided at all costs. After a few years of triathlon the swimming part finally caught up with me and it was back to road cycling. As a junior I made it onto the National Team for the Tour de L'Abitibi in 1995 and won the National Road Race title in 1996. It was pavement or bust. In the fall of 1997 I finally branched out and tried cyclocross and despite doing it on my regular road bike and being technically awful I enjoyed it alot. 

After a long hiatus I raced road again, then took another long break, then returned, then stopped. Last year I started training again for road racing with the intention of never stopping.  However the most prestigious event in Ottawa is the 30 year old gravel event Almonte-Roubaix and after finishing it last year it got me motivated to explore what else might be out there. I wasn't sure where it would lead and I figured I would have a bit of fun and then get back to the business of road racing. Turns out it led me down a path from which there was no return. Alot of unintended consequences arose from getting the gravel riding bug and I've found my mindset completely overturned and my perspective forever altered. 

The local scene is quite vibrant and I aspired to participate in all of it last year. I did the Gat Challenge, the OBC TT, the Airport Crits, the Cyclelogik A Ride, along with all the road races within a few hours drive and had alot of fun. Although I find Gatineau Park a little stale it's a unique place to ride and the Gat Challenge is a unique event. The OBC TT is a great event to compare yourself with others and challenge yourself to get a personal best. Although the busy traffic has held me up at the turn a few times it's a nice flat course, perfect for a 15km TT, so I braved traffic to attend despite spring rain and cold weather to start. I really enjoyed the atmosphere at the Airport Crits last year. I liked the course even more so I drove the 140km round trip through rush hour traffic to participate. I even begged my brother Charlie to come because it was a fast safe event. (He hates crits) The Cyclelogik ride was fun, fast and I saw some teammates each time but there's only so many times I can do the Carp Loop and dodge bomb craters on the terribly paved roads the rides uses. 

Things dramatically changed on November 14th last year when I made a 30min drive to Hopetown and did a short 18km loop. I had noticed some roads on google maps and curiosity always wins with me. The roads looked to be unmaintained so I planned a short loop thinking it would be slow going like the unmaintained roads I'd experienced in West Carleton or Almonte-Roubaix. The first road I took Stewart Gibson left me perplexed and spellbound. The sign said "unmaintained" but it was a single lane gravel road in such pristine condition I thought maybe I should go back and check the sign again. I turned right on Conc 2 and proceeded to the next road I wanted to check out, Lammermoor. To my surprise it was the exact same thing. I had budgeted a couple hours for the ride due to the difficulties I thought I would encounter but I was done in 50min. 

After a few more rides it became clear to me that well within an hour of my doorstep was a treasure trove of single lane farm roads in pristine condition that traversed scenery which kept my eyes busy the entire ride. Unfortunately I had noone to share it with which was a little disheartening but I was still extremely motivated to explore on my own. As winter approached I was pulling my balaclava up over my head in dwindling sunlight and getting directions from hunters up in the trees, so not wanting to get shot, freeze or run over in dusk I had to call curtains on my gravel exploring. 

I spent the winter formulating a gravel exploring plan of attack. I was training hard on Zwift but all I could really think about was what gravel roads I'd tackle next year. I went out in early spring to check some of the local unmaintained roads only to have to turn back due to snow cover. Same thing happened when I tried to recon some roads around Renfrew. Then when the season started I was doing so many races that I started to get annoyed that they were interfering with my gravel season.

Simultaneously I began communicating with a new nine2five recruit Alain Villeneuve. I had mentioned the idea of having a map of where all nine2fivepro members lived and about having a map showing where the gravel roads were and describing them using a legend and in a flash he set all of those things up. One thing led to another and our relationship snowballed into the Kinburn Kermesse, The West Carleton Gravel Series and my most enjoyable endeavor, Gormont (Alain came up with this term when we saw so many people driving 5hrs to Vermont to gravel ride). Since the first one on June 16th there's been 5 more plus a Vilmont (when I unexpectedly couldn't make a ride I had planned). Over this time I've lost all interest in doing any of the local training events (except the Kermesse of course) and I have absolutely no interest in participating in the local cyclocross series even though we're lucky to have such a series in Ottawa. After seeing what I've seen, endless kilometers of pristine single lane gravel roads, everything else seems non-existent. I'll never forget the feeling I had after the first Gormont when I went to go watch the Preston St Crit. A rectangular course in a concrete jungle in searing heat where I saw people going over the handlebars and breaking very expensive pieces of equipment on top of losing skin. It really put things in perspective for me. Later on I went to Le Nordet which uses a single stretch of 30km road over and over again and thought, "What am I doing?" I decided to shelve road racing for the time being in favour of something more fulfilling. 

Another unfortunate effect is that I now find my local gravel roads of West Carleton lacking because I'm not constantly covered by a cooling tree canopy the entire time. Thankfully I find the motivation to ride the courses for my gravel series events because it makes for a great training ride and I post pictures for others to see what they'll be experiencing. 

After our West Carleton Gravel Series events finish in early September I plan on doing the Perth Cyclosportif (Gravel course). Looks like an amazing event and I want to support it. After that my fall gravel exploring campaign begins. Cyclocross is fun but for me personally I currently have zero interest in it. When there's endless single lane picturesque gravel roads to be discovered just minutes away I am just not motivated to go ride around a park through flags. That's just my personal feeling. I've just seen too much and have gone well past the event horizon. Adding to that I now have a solid group of Gormonters to keep me company and the question after each ride is always, "When is the next one?" Words can't describe the satisfaction I get from leading a group of like-minded individuals over the areas best gravel roads. I try to talk to as many people as I can about gravel riding because I don't want people to miss out for as long as I did. Gravel riding is king to me right now and I just want to spread the joy of peaceful serenity that has rekindled my interest in cycling like nothing else ever has.